Let us talk about writing a Constitution

The need for a written Constitution, size and duration of Parliament and review of the existing statutes are among the issues on which the Government is seeking the opinion of the public.

Members of the Indian community can and should engage in the conversation with a 12-member Constitutional Review Panel appointed by the Government.

The Panel is now in the listening mode, assessing public opinion. Following the end of discussion with the public on July 31, the Panel will submit a report to the Government by December.

Important Document

While the Constitutional debate is not new, the seriousness with which it is now being approach could lead to a firm decision as to its need in the next few years.

But as this writer understands from a number of experts on the subject, it would take considerable time for a Constitution to be written, approved and adopted, should a majority of us decide in its favour.

The 12-Member Review Panel includes Emeritus Professor John Burrows QC (Co-Chair), Sir Tipene O’Regan (Ngāi Tahu) (Co-Chair), Peter Chin, Deborah Coddington, Sir Michael Cullen, John Luxton, Bernice Mene, Peter Tennent, Dr Ranginui Walker (Te Whakatōhea), Dr Leonie Pihama (Te Ātiawa, Ngā Māhanga a Tairi, Ngāti Māhanga), Hinurewa Poutu (Ngāti Rangi, Te Āti Haunui a Pāpārangi, Ngāti Maniapoto) and Professor Linda Tuhiwai Smith (Ngāti Awa, Ngāti Porou).

Vital questions

Addressing a media conference on May 2, Professor Burrows and Ms Coddington said that constitutional review was not an issue that comes up for discussion ‘automatically at social gatherings or even at the kitchen table.

But it is a rare opportunity for people living in New Zealand to have a say on how the country is governed, he told Indian Newslink.

“The Panel is looking at a number of very important issues. Some of them have particular relevance to the Indian community. For example, ‘Does the New Zealand Bill of Rights give enough protection to people’s rights?’ ‘Should we have a written Constitution, as many other countries do?’ ‘What should be the role of the Treaty of Waitangi in our increasingly diverse country?’

“The Panel wants to hear from as many people as possible, and is very interested in the views of the Indian community. So please make a submission to us, or let us know in some other way your views on these matters,” he said.

The terms of reference of the Panel cover three main categories namely Electoral Matters, Crown-Maori Relationship Matters and other Constitutional Matters.

Ms Coddington said that the role of the Panel is to connect with people and answer without fear or favour questions that people may raise during discussions.

“The Review is important and exciting, giving New Zealanders the opportunity to see that we do have a Constitution. It is interesting and not scary. More importantly, it reflects on our everyday lives,” she said.

Editor’s Note: Indian Newslink will publish a series of stories on Constitutional Review, taking into account the experience of other democracies in its future issues. Read our editorial, ‘Constitution builds national character’ under Viewlink.

Photo : Professor John Burrows

Deborah Coddington

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